Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Letters from Egypt: Double Standard

Sha'maa, our sweet office girl who always has a smile on her face

Although I’ve been updating this blog and discussing activities, I have yet to really explain some culture shock that I’ve recently experience.

For starters, let’s discuss how there is a double standard between Egyptian citizens and foreigners – particularly American. I went to the Ace Club to meet up with Natalie last night. For the first time I was there on time and so I sat at the bar and read the English Egyptian newspaper. In the op-ed section was a piece by a native discussing gambling being brought to Cairo. These are allowed for tourism, but with the same restrictions we have in some of the states: must be on open water, for instance. In continuance, she asked why an Islamic state would allow something against the foundation as most tourists come to Egypt for historical purposes. Her point was that double standards have widened and this is another example.

It’s true. In the US, we have demonstrators against immigrants reasoning they are taking our jobs, evading the law, and the like. When Nat arrived, we decided to go eat somewhere, but I had a full beer and well, I just don’t like to commit the ultimate crime of alcohol waste. Nat said, “Don’t worry, you can take it with you.” To which I replied, “Is it really okay to walk around with this in my hand?” She said, “Of course, you’re American. The rules don’t apply to foreigners, particularly Americans.”

It’s true. We are not held up to the same standards as natives. We are allowed to pretty much do as we please. As I was in Ain Sukhna this weekend for a charity golf tournament, all the other foreigners (mostly Scotts and Brits) kept saying the main reason they like Egypt is because they have more freedom.

There are positives to also being a western female. For instance, I paid for a 15 minute banana boat ride this weekend but the operator gave Farrah and me 30 minutes. Going to a restaurant and I’m waited on immediately hand and foot. Then there are negatives such as all shouts I get as I walk down the street. The lower class workers sometimes pass by and try to reach out and touch me. Or the worst are those who hate foreigners and scream “Shalmuta” which is bitch/prostitute in Arabic all because I am wearing a sleeveless shirt.

However, wouldn’t you hate foreigners to some extent if you saw them violating all the laws that applied to you, yet nothing was done? It doesn’t constitute the Shalmuta example, but I can walk down the street and since I am located where all the embassies are with the highest expat community, military is on every block with policemen in between. If a man tried to harass me, these government officials would beat them in the middle of the street. If an Egyptian walked around with a beer bottle in his/her hand, they would be beaten and then taken to jail. Foreigners get the highest paid jobs and sometimes treat the Egyptians with disrespect. They make above average wages while the typical Egyptian worker maybe pulls in an average of $100 (USD) a month.

If an American and Egyptian man get into an argument in the street and both are taken to jail, the American has his embassy contacted right away and an official is sent over to order his immediate release. The Egyptian male will take a beating while detained and release is undetermined.

It is great to know that Americans in particular are heavily guarded because our government makes sure of it (probably in part forced by media coverage). A US passport is highly revered here and where ever there are a group of Americans, there’s military standing outside. However, it is not fair and we know it. Maybe some are okay with it, but I know I would be outraged if the Chinese, for example, were allowed to come into the US and broke any law they wanted without consequence.

This isn’t saying that Americans can’t be touched, it’s just to put things in a different perspective. Something that I never expected so to speak.


  1. Hi Leanne,
    I'm very pleased, and thankful that you are at your best! Yes, the "Truth" does hit where it hurt!However, I'm very proud of you and your success:) I will pray for you each and everyday:) Take care, and May the God of Us all be with you and your endeavors and you are greatly missed.:(

    Love You,

  2. Your blog is so informative and honest. I'm traveling to Cairo at the end of the month and was so happy to find an American view point from someone real.